SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – “Think BIG to GROW Missouri” is an initiative by University of Missouri Extension to expand specialty crop production as a strategic opportunity for sustainable socio-economic growth in southwest Missouri.
The United States Department of Agriculture – Natural Resource Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) funded StrikeForce Farmer Development program serving 46 counties in the southwest and southeast regions provides opportunities to build on the successes and lessons learned to continue to develop the project.
“The StrikeForce project is a multi-disciplinary team that has developed and delivered training for farmers in beginning and advanced commercial specialty crop production,” said Dr. Amy Patillo, field specialist in workforce development with MU Extension and coordinator of the Strikeforce team.
The program goal is to engage farmers and strategic partners around expanding specialty crops to double agricultural economic impact in Southwest Missouri.
“The StrikeForce team has identified southwest Missouri because it is primed for rapid growth and development as a result of strong private and public partners, and highly skilled and motivated producers,” said Maria Rodriguez-Alcala, a county engagement specialist with University of Missouri Extension.
Farmers and specialty crop producers contribute $3.3 million in food and related products manufacturing in a small area of southwest Missouri (2016, Missouri Agriculture’s Economic Impact, Congressional District 7).
In a Specialty Crop Cluster Study in the Sacramento Region, CA, the total value of agriculture production in the region rose from $1.6 billion in 2008 to $2.4 billion in 2014, an increase of 49 percent. Even when adjusted for inflation this translates to an increase of 36 percent. Specialty crops accounted for 95 percent of this increase.
Employment also increased by nearly 6 percent from 2008 to 2014 in the Specialty Crop Cluster region and was projected to increase another 3 percent from 2014 to 2019.
Jamie Gundel, field specialist in agronomy with MU Extension said, “If we apply those same numbers to the data from the 2016 Missouri Agriculture Economic Contributions study for Congressional District 7, we can predict a 36 percent increase (assuming adjustment for inflation) in the total value of agricultural product sales totaling $5.760 billion. We can also predict a nine percent increase in jobs, leading to 5,820 new jobs.”
Patillo notes that there has been successes and lessons learned since the inception of the project in 2017.
“Generous funding from USDA-NRCS had made it possible for the StrikeForce team to deliver 56 workshops to 1,195 participants while serving 137 military veterans, providing 55 individual farmer consultations, and developing 176 mentor farmers,” said Patillo. “In thinking about how we can enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops in Missouri, expand markets and distribution we must address the challenges of marketing, promotion, and infrastructure for the producers and consumers to create opportunities for equitable access and increased profitability.”
The key to addressing these challenges is working in collaboration with our farmers and agriculture partners, and building on the continued successes and resources within the larger network of specialty crop producers.
The project is positioned to respond to the current trends, assess opportunities and challenges, and learn from existing modes.
“University of Missouri is uniquely poised to lead to this initiative. We are a comprehensive university, with all actors actively engaged together to tackle the challenges inherent to a project of this magnitude,” said Patrick Byers, field specialist in Commercial Horticulture with MU Extension.
The University of Missouri’s Agriculture and Environment Extension Program has challenged faculty to develop programming to double the impact of Missouri’s agriculture sector, without negatively affecting our natural resources. The specialty crops initiative will contribute to this important goal.
Dean Christopher Daubert best describes the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resource’s, and by association MU Extension, as “an engine that, when firing on all cylinders, successfully moves the organization and our state forward.”
The success of growing agricultural economic impact in Missouri will depend on the commitment and engagement of many across the State and within the University.
“Agriculture’s growing importance and economic impact benefit farmers and consumers, if you buy groceries, drink milk, or enjoy walking barefoot in your lawn, Missouri’s farmers and the University of Missouri has served you,” said Patillo.
To learn more about MU Extension StrikeForce Farmer Development program, visit UM-MOStrikeForce at https://www.facebook.com/pg/MOStrikeForce/posts/ . Upcoming program information available online at http://extension.missouri.edu/greene or by calling the Greene County MU Extension center at 417-881-8909.